Tactical maneuvers on Upper Lars05.11.2009 | 14:16
Russia and Georgia openly admit that restoration of traffic via Upper Lars checkpoint is of mutual interest. However even here some tactical maneuvers were started. Georgian Foreign Minister contradicted the information on Georgian-Russian talks held in Yerevan on resumption of traffic on this stretch confirming though that Georgia was discussing that with Armenia. What can the opening of the road directly connecting Georgia and Russia bring about and is there any hope for it?
Kazbegi checkpoint (Georgia) - Upper Lars (Russia) is the only official land checkpoint on the Georgian-Russian border, 38 km to the south from Vladikavkaz by the Georgian Military Highway. The traffic along this road has been suspended since 2006. Russia claimed the need to repair the checkpoint and fit it out in compliance with modern standards.
But then August burst out. And the countries lost direct communication and cut diplomatic ties. Not concealing bad feelings over the lost war Tbilisi continues accusing Moscow. Experts and analysts agree there is no prospect of normal Russian-Georgian relations so far.
In the meantime recently it was reported that Russia and Georgia were interested to open Upper Lars-Kazbegi checkpoint as soon as possible.
No wonder, strictly speaking. This subject was raised in spring. In May the Georgian Foreign Ministry stated they "received a notification from the Swiss embassy (the Russian Federation Interests Section is operating at the Swiss Embassy) that in connection with completion of repair works on Upper Lars checkpoint the Russian Federation is ready to start negotiating resumption of traffic via this checkpoint with the Georgian side".
Then Tbilisi retorted doubting Russia's sincere intention to open Upper Lars, as Georgian FM Grigol Vashadze stated. However solution to this issue seems to have moved off dead center in spite of current problems between Georgia and Russia. At least in July Saakashvili on his trip to Yerevan stated that Georgia would be ready to open Upper Lars checkpoint bordering Russia as soon as the road repair works were completed.
In early September works in Kazbegi checkpoint were finished with triumph. The checkpoint opening ceremony was attended by then US Ambassador to Georgia John Tefft. The checkpoint was repaired under the Georgia Border Security and Law Enforcement Program sponsored by the US government.
It would seem that only ribbon-cutting was needed to acknowledge slight progress in Georgian - Russian relations. At least this is the only direct line between Russia and Georgia (albeit snowdrifted in winter). But according to tradition problems started gathering like a snow ball.
Recently the Georgian Foreign Ministry disproved the fact of Georgian-Russian talks allegedly held in Yerevan on resumption of traffic via Upper Lars-Kazbegi checkpoint. Deputy FM Nino Kalandadze told journalists: "Unfortunately there is disinformation on the Russian part that Tbilisi allegedly held talks with Moscow on resumption of traffic on Upper Lars-Kazbegi checkpoint. We do not hold any negotiations with the Russian side".
Where did the media get the information on Georgia's readiness to open Upper Lars checkpoint for Armenia with reference to that same press conference with Kalanadze? The thing is that at the press conference she also stated that "in reality Georgia started technical consultations on resumption of traffic via Upper Lars-Kazbegi with Armenia". "Armenia is interested to have the Georgian-Russian border open and we started these consultations upon agreement on technical talks with the Armenian side », - she remarked.
That means the negotiations are underway but not directly with Russia (since it's denominated only as "aggressor" or "occupant" in Tbilisi) but with Russia through Armenia.
It's just another confirmation that Caucasus is a really "delicate matter". Why not state directly: yes, the negotiations are in progress. After all grudges are grudges but there can't be any emotions in politics. To a certain extent this is a step toward dialogue with Russia the whole Georgian society keeps pressing for. The opening of this checkpoint will strengthen Georgian-Armenian relations that haven't been absolutely cloudless of late. It is Armenia that benefits from the checkpoint start-up.
Because of deteriorated Georgian-Russian relations Armenia was forced into isolation. Armenia can communicate with Russia only through Georgia (the borders with neighboring Azerbaijan are shut because of Karabakh, and diplomatic relations with Turkey were restored a short while ago).
But even opposition deputies state it's not worthwhile to open the checkpoint between Russia and Georgia. This statement, as Georgian media report, was made by Nica Laliashvili, a parliamentary deputy of the Christian-Democratic faction.